SEANET blogger creates human life!

27 05 2009
Simon Courchesne; the cause of the recent blogging drought

Simon Courchesne; the cause of the recent blogging drought

Apologies for the slackening pace of blog posts of late; the culprit: a 9lb baby born to SEANET blogger Sarah Courchesne on May 22nd. The young Simon Robert seems not to have acquired his mother’s enthusiasm for SEANET or for our coastal ecosystems generally. As such, SEANET must warn the faithful readers of the blog that posts will be much reduced in frequency this summer. SEANET will strive to provide you with fresh, fabulous content at least once a week. And, as always, you can contact SEANET through this blog by posting a comment, or you can email us at seanet@tufts.edu.

Thanks Seanetters!

Advertisements




Bald Eagles develop a taste for Maine seabirds

20 05 2009
In this corner: The Great Cormorant

In this corner: The Great Cormorant

File this one under the law of unintended consequences: Bald Eagles, threatened with extinction less than 50 years ago, have since rebounded spectacularly. More than 10,000 pairs of the birds now inhabit the lower 48 states, and they all have to make a living somehow. Perhaps because overfishing has depleted the usual prey of the eagles, the birds have shifted away from fish and are now specializing on seabird chicks in the Gulf of Maine. While the eagles will take chicks (and occasionally adults) of all sorts of species, from gulls to eiders to loons, of particular concern is their taste for Great Cormorants. While Great Cormorants are more common in northern climes, only 80 pairs bred in Maine last summer. There is a strong possibility that the Bald Eagles could wipe out the Maine population entirely.

Bald Eagles will feed on almost anything, from fish to roadkill, and select prey based on abundance and ease of capture. With fish stocks on the decline, the wobbly, defenseless cormorant chicks have proven irresistible. Brad Allen, a wildlife biologist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife described the scene when eagles descend on a seabird colony: “They’re like thugs. They’re like gang members. They go to these offshore islands where all these seabirds are and the birds are easy picking. These young eagles are harassing the bejesus out of all the birds, and the great cormorants have been taking it on the chin.”

And in this corner: the Bald Eagle

And in this corner: the Bald Eagle

Biologists have been spending time on the seabird islands attempting to harass the eagles and prevent them both from driving adult cormorants off active nests, and from eating the chicks once they hatch. This unexpected scenario has put bird lovers of all sorts in the awkward position of having to prioritize one native species over another. Try looking either of these characters in the eye and having that discussion– SEANET certainly doesn’t envy the biologists in the Gulf of Maine.





Eider collecting expedition a success!

19 05 2009

Though she sadly failed to get any photos of the operation, Dr. Julie Ellis did head out over the weekend to Jeremy Point in Wellfleet, MA to investigate the recent Common Eider die-offs. Accompanied by Dr. Michael Moore and Andrea Bogomolni, Dr. Ellis faced a daunting four missions: ascertain the numbers of live Common Eiders hanging out in the area, count and mark the dead eiders on the beach, collect wings from the dead birds for identification purposes, and collect dead or dying eiders for potential diagnosis by pathologists.

Dramatization of the weekend's events. (Actor portrayals of Dr. Julie Ellis and a sick Common Eider)

Dramatization of the weekend's events. (Actor portrayals of Dr. Julie Ellis and a sick Common Eider)

While the live birds scattered at their boat’s approach, the team was able to accomplish all of its other objectives. They counted a total of 50 dead birds on the beach, and collected 15-20 wings for submission to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Experts at Fish and Wildlife are able to characterize the age and sex of the birds affected by close examination of the wings.

Dr. Ellis and company found a single, intact freshly dead eider. The remainder had been severely scavenged by the local gulls who were having a field day at the macabre scene. Dr. Ellis and Andrea were able to capture 5 sick eiders for euthanasia by Dr. Moore, a veterinarian. While the birds were too ill to fly, they did struggle to escape, prompting Dr. Ellis to sprint barefoot across the sand to catch the birds before they entered the water and became entirely inaccessible.  (See dramatization in photo above.) The six carcasses will be submitted to two separate labs in an attempt to obtain a diagnosis.

SEANET will keep you posted regarding the results, and we thank Dr. Moore and Andrea for generously donating their time, and the National Parks Service for granting us access to the site.





Lighter fare for a Friday

15 05 2009

Rather than leave you Seanetters with the grim image of Common Eider carcasses strewn across Cape Cod on this beautiful Friday (at least here in Massachusetts), here’s a bit of frivolity in the form of some gorgeous photos from the undersea realm. Check out all the winners at National Geographic’s website!

Boxer crabs, the big winners in National Geographic's Underwater Photo Contest

Boxer crabs, the big winners in National Geographic's Underwater Photo Contest





Common Eider Die-off Update

14 05 2009
Jeremy Point, circled in red, is arguably the most remote spot in the Cape Cod National Seashore

Jeremy Point, circled in red, is arguably the most remote spot in the Cape Cod National Seashore

SEANET volunteer Ralph Marotti (CC_02) went above and beyond for us this week, calling today to give us an update on the ongoing Common Eider die-offs on Cape Cod. SEANET has been frustrated by our inability to get a solid grasp on the numbers of birds involved in the die-offs. While a number of SEANET volunteers have been reporting from their beaches and keeping us posted on what they see, the epicenter of the die-off, Great Island and Jeremy Point in Wellfleet, have been almost completely inaccessible.

Ralph Marotti journeyed out to Jeremy Point via ATV with the permission of Mary Hake, the Cape Cod National Seashore’s Shorebird Management Technician. Ralph tells us that he counted 120 Common Eider carcasses all clustered on the Point, but that he knows that he did not get a full tally.
SEANET has been overwhelmed by the offers of help in counting and collecting carcasses, but have up to now been limited by the logistics of reaching Jeremy Point. As you can see on the map below, trail maps of the Wellfleet area bear bright red text beside the Point reading, “DANGER: Land south of here is submerged except at lowest tides. Check with a ranger.” ATV and boat are essentially the only reasonable options to survey the Point, and Carrie Phillips, Chief of Natural Resource Management at the National Seashore, is understandly reluctant to overutilize ATVs at this time of year since the area involved is sensitive Piping Plover nesting habitat.

Detail of the Wellfleet Bay area of Cape Cod. The risks of venturing out to Jeremy Point are explicitly spelled out.

Detail of the Wellfleet Bay area of Cape Cod. The risks of venturing out to Jeremy Point are explicitly spelled out.

The solution is a collaboration between SEANET, the National Seashore, and Dr. Michael Moore of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Thanks to the collaborative spirit of the National Seashore,  our own Dr. Julie Ellis, Dr. Moore, and PhD student Andrea Bogomolni will be venturing out to Jeremy Point via boat this Sunday to count carcasses and collect a few representative specimens for necropsy and further diagnostics. From there, we hope to work in collaboration with numerous agencies and labs to get to the bottom of this die-off, and hopefully help to explain past die-offs as well. As always, keep your eyes on the blog for more information as we get it.





Welcome Georgia Seanetters!

13 05 2009
Location of Little Cumberland Island, Georgia

Location of Little Cumberland Island, Georgia

We’ve gotten our first survey report from our newest beachwalkers out on the Georgia barrier islands! New Seanetter Rebecca Bell submitted a survey late last month that turned up a dead adult Northern Gannet.

We are immensely grateful to our Georgia participants since many of them are reporting on beaches to which we would otherwise never have access. Little Cumberland Island, for instance, where Rebecca prowls around, is private and accessible only by boat. Little Cumberland and Great Cumberland Islands together are considered one island, and their combined area makes Cumberland Island the largest of the Georgia Sea Islands.

SEANET benefits from extensive and intense monitoring of sea turtle nesting on the Georgia islands, and the sea turtle folks have been more than accomodating of piggy-backing the SEANET surveys onto their already considerable workloads.

We look forward to more and more reports from Georgia, and hope to include more on Rebecca and her beach in a future post.

Rebecca's beach at the tip of Little Cumberland Island.

Rebecca's beach at the tip of Little Cumberland Island.





Common Eider die-off on Cape Cod

12 05 2009
Sites where Common Eider carcasses have been reported. Great Island in Wellfleet has been the epicenter of the event.

Red markers represent Common Eider carcass reports. SEANET beaches are shown in blue. Great Island in Wellfleet has been the epicenter of the event.

About a week and a half ago, SEANET received word of dead and dying Common Eiders turning up on the shores of Wellfleet on Cape Cod. This was hardly surprising since eiders undergo periodic mortality events, most commonly in the Spring and Fall. See our previous post, “Common Eider Research Update” for more on this.

This time around, we received reports from staff at the National Parks Service on the Cape that approximately 60-65 eiders, mainly males, were found dead on Great Island. On the map shown above, the red markers denote eider carcasses. Great Island is located at the center of the screen, and is largely obscured by a slew of red markers. Lesser numbers of eiders have been reported by Seanetters from farther south in Eastham all the way up to Provincetown at the tip of the Cape.

This die-off event is proving to be relatively small scale and mild at this point. We welcome any and all reports from the field on this event, however, so if you are a Cape Cod Seanetter, please let us know what you see out there, whether it is on your official SEANET beach or elsewhere in your travels.

If and when we get more information on this event, you will be the first to know!